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Maple Leaf optimism heading into 2014-’15 season: just summertime hope?

Though it feels like hockey training camp must be right around the corner, we are still a few weeks away from when the Leafs begin their work in earnest. In truth, I don’t have a whole lot new to say today, but I do have a question for those who have followed the team’s off-season’s moves.

I sense most Leaf fans are at least moderately optimistic about what Brendan Shanahan has done in his relatively short time with the organization. They did not over-spend on free agents. GM Dave Nonis has made a number of somewhat under-the-radar signings, and at a modest price.  He has not made the big splash, though he has re-signed Jake Gardiner and James Reimer as well. The third and fourth lines should have a new look, and we have added a couple of defensemen who will add some experience and physicality to the Leaf blueline.

All this said, as I’ve written here at VLM in the past, summertime is always, it seems, a hopeful time for Leaf fans.  The reality of losing streaks is a distant, perhaps forgotten memory.  And new players always bring hope that things will be better this time around.

(On that summertime note, I always remember reading a story when I was a youngster back in the 1960s, about then Leaf centerman Dave Keon.  Keon said in an interview that, for him, the only time the off-season dragged was toward the middle of August, because he was anxious for training camp to start at the beginning of September. You can sense that with players nowadays, too, because a lot of Leafs get together for informal skates and scrimmages well before camp officially begins.)

But my question is this:  as we start to look ahead to training camp and some exhibition games in September, is there really and truly a reason to be optimistic heading into the new season, or are we seeing yet another blue and white mirage?

Maybe as importantly, if you are in an optimistic frame of mind, are you optimistic about the Leafs a) simply being better than last season b) becoming a playoff team or c) actually being on the cusp of being a contender in the Eastern Conference?

To me, those are all reasons for optimistic, absolutely, but they are also very different levels of expectation.

I look forward to some good old-fashioned VLM discussion on this one. Is this year going to be different? Are you hopeful and if so, what will constitute success for the Leafs in your mind as you look ahead to this coming season?


  1. I was at a dinner/birthday party last night and even though it was early August we were all talking hockey and the upcoming season (at least the guys were). I'm in Ottawa and the Sens faithful are a little worried but are still thinking they will make the playoffs and finish ahead of the Leafs to boot, and the Bruins fan thinks Reilly Smith will pick up slack now that Iginla is gone and as expected they all agreed that the Leafs have done nothing and may even be worse with no Kulemin and Bolland. As usual I was the butt of all the jokes when I gave my assessment of how the season will go. Now most of these people are casual fans so it doesn't bother me when I get kidded because I know I know a lot more than they do, but still I have usually been wrong with my Leaf predictions but I still think this year is different. I have said that a few years - this is the year - and last year was different until Bernier was injured.

    I think there is a lot of reasons to be optimistic. Leafs may now have the best bottom six in the NHL. Komorov is a good addition and he showed he was an NHL player on the Leafs and in the Olympics. That is a positive but there was a TSN interview on Leaf lunch last month with a Finnish hockey writer who said Kontiola was actually a lot better player than Komorov and if that is true the Leafs may have something here.

    But consider this - last year the Leafs 4th line of Orr/Bodie McClement McClaren/Smith totalled 30 point on the season. Winnik had 30 pts for the Ducks, Santorelli had 28 points in 45 games when he injured his shoulder and Booth had 19 points in 66 games and was playing injured most of the season. That is 77 points and projects out to over 100 points if they stay healthy and these guys are 28 and 29 years old and have good advanced stats and are known to be hard to play against. This is definitely an improvement over the players they had.

    I have already seen a few prediction like the Hockey News with the Leafs finishing 6th and missing the playoffs but I just don't see it. I really believe they could win the East this year, and that is realistic if they play up to their potential. Then maybe a Cup? ( Carolina? Tampa?)

    1. We definitely will want to wait until the regular season is well underway to see if the Leafs are indeed an improved team, but you raise fair points, Alton. The low-profile additions may turn out well, including the names you cite.

      It feels as though the East is still a Conference with a lot of parity- I don't think there are any unbeatable teams.

      All last year I suggested the Leafs could be players in the Conference. And they were for most of the season. They've added some skill and the right kind of grit, I think. But they have lots to prove.

  2. Thought provoking interrogatives, Michael! I always set out to balance optimism with realism, yet I don't know how to do that (after all these years) in the present context.

    Any optimism and hopefulness in my makeup is, at best, ... 'measured'.

    This doesn't mean that any one of your 3 potentialities is 'impossible' in my estimation, just that I'm not willing to get my hopes up to previous levels, only because there are possibilities for success with the moves made this summer. I can't figure out whether potential synergies have any possibility of occurring, I merely anticipate that the multiple centre/wing options and the balanced R/L Defense are intriguing. Whether it will all come together?!... leaves me in a Missouri (Show Me) State of mind :)

    I will have to let the product on the ice determine my level of ongoing hopefulness as the year progresses... kind of a new mindset for me at this stage of my fandom...

    1. I know you've been following this Leaf team for decades as well, InTimeFor62, like many of our fellow VLMers. It's natural (and healthy!) to find hope when looking forward to watching your team begin a new season. And often times the Leafs have given us legitimate reasons to feel hopeful.

      This year, like you, I sense there are some very good possibilities here, but we will need to see this roster when the games count. There will no doubt be more changes between now and the trade deadline. Missouri is a good place to be from on this one- I can understand the guarded optimism.

  3. At this juncture, I would put myself in the hopeful category. It is too early for optimism, too many unknowns. For all the talk here during the latter half of last season and into the off-season, the prevailing assessment has been that the bottom six forwards need an overhaul and/or needs to be utilized different, and that our defense, while individually possibly strong, has not performed well as a unit.

    I think we know what we have back in Komarov, and I have heard positive things about a lot of other new, cheap bottom six players that have signed, but I can't pretend to know a thing about them myself. So it would be premature for me to assume that inserting Kontiola and Santorelli will work. I hope it will. I hope a new look with these guys, along with renewed chances for the likes of Frattin and Ashton will pay off. But will these players fit inside this team, inside whatever system Carlyle will be preaching this year? I hope they will.

    Polak and Robidas on the surface seem like lateral moves, no better or worse than what we've already had. Will experience and a tougher front of net presence be an upgrade? Too soon to tell.

    I am truly optimistic that Shanahan is moving a once stagnant team in a forward direction, and that continued offseasons such as this will show results. I'm just not sure how immediate they might be. It's hard to get excited by the low level free agent signings I know, they sure don't sound as sexy as say, Minnesota grabbing Suter and Parise a couple years ago. But they do begin to build a different foundation.

    1. Your views are likely shared by a number of fellow Leaf supporters, Pete. Hopeful, but not necessarily convinced. And you're right, what we are being told is encouraging about what the new signings might offer, but until we see if the "mix" is right, we won't know for sure.

      If Shanahan has certain core principles he believes in and can adhere to those principles, maybe the organization is heading in a good direction. How significant the improvement may be this year, we won't know for a while. Longer-term, we may be OK.

  4. Hi Michael.

    While the organization has changed some of the choices Carlyle can make, I still expect him to make decisions on player usage I'm not going to like. It will be interesting to see if Carlyle listens to his new staff. Nonis didn't seem to have a problem with anything Randy did. I think Shanahan will have a different view. I really like the new forward group, uncertain about the defense.

    With changes to the coaching staff, new players and modifications to the swarm system, it's hard to guess what we'll see. I wasn't enamored with the Marlies' system either and I'm relieved Horachek will be running the D-system. I hope "modifications" includes engaging the points.

    I've never paid a lot of attention to the Neutral zone; I didn't understand how important the play is in this zone.. We saw so many dangerous turn-overs occurring there, maybe because there was a lack of support for Dmen carrying the puck out. While Gardiner turn-overs were memorable and sometimes spectacular, he actually had considerably less than any other Leaf defenseman in the D-zone. He also had the puck a lot more, according to statistics, whereas some barely touched it. (I've realized that shot blocking by a D-man sometimes means he wasn't capable of making a good play to regain possession.) Puck moving D-men may not be able to prevent entrance into the zone but they are very good at regaining possession. Our best players for getting the puck out were Jake, Morgan and, surprisingly, Franson did well in this area. The Leafs were not very good defending N-zone turn-overs , and I'm not sure if many teams are. I think it's more important to avoid them. I've lumped D-zone and N-zone together because I think good defense starts in the Neutral zone and we all saw the lack of support there.

    I think the Leafs will make the playoffs and I expect a quick start in spite of this being a bit of a re-adjusting and learning sort of season. I think the play during Nov.-Dec. will be crucial in whatever decisions Shanahan makes regarding Carlyle. Some coaches do get fired when they are winning and Shanahan (I hope) may not be as concerned about "optics" as he is about the on-ice product He may make personnel changes if he doesn't like what he's seeing. None of us knows if he already had/has another coach in mind but, if he does, we won't see him this season. Thanks Michael. Colleen--garbled as usual.

    1. Hi Colleen- Carlyle will be watched closely this fall, and not just by fans. "Adjustments" will be the word of the day.

      Your point on blocking shots, for example, rings true. I think that the conventional thinking is that blocking shots was always a good thing, and a great help to goaltenders. But an alternative way of looking at stats and possession may indeed tell a different story, at least in some situations.

      Systems of play do matter, but at the end of the day I wonder if the most important thing still is if guys have chemistry to go along with it. As Pete said above, a lot of us liked our defensemen last year, but somehow, together, they weren't as effective as they should have been.

      We'll see how Phaneuf responds to a new partner, and whether the forward lines mesh well. Thanks Colleen.

    2. Hey Colleen hope you're fine!

      Defense starts in the offensive zone. A good defensive team starts controling the other team in the offensive ( the opponents defensive) zone, without the puck.
      Pressure the puck carrier and take away his options, then do not give up the neutral zone easily. Do not allow them to make the neutral zone quickly and do not allow them control there and deny them a way into your defensive zone with control. Force them to dump the puck in.

      You only see Gardiner loosing the puck in the neutral zone so often because this is THE ofensive option for the Leafs. And that is the problem.

      Carlyle said in the contract extension conference he wants them to play like the teams in the west.That means skating and making it through the neutral zone by passing the puck quickly. Controling the play offensively.

      That means Gardiner has less opportunities to get caught in the neutral zone.
      Somehow Gardiner has the gift to make people think his deficiencies are his strength.

      Shot blocking and regaining posession because of good skating usually happen in diffrent situations.

    3. I'm good, thanks Marcus. Hope you are too.:) You're right, defense is the whole ice surface, my thinking hadn't gone that far. (O-zone) I'm remembering so many long passes through neutral. Great when they work but that scared the life out of me! C

    4. I'm fine! Thanks Colleen.

      The stretch pass is a good option in the right moment, if it is presenting itself.
      But it often is made because of a lack of ideas.

    5. Hi Marcus! I thought I'd reply here so I don't mess up Michael's latest post.
      You mentioned systems. I'm still learning. I think I'm interested now after watching last season, wondering what the heck they were doing and reading Mirtle, Hotstove, Pension Plan Puppets, VLM (of course!) and a few others. Some analytics are interesting too, but they have to be presented in layman's terms for me!

      I don't know what to expect this season. I'm half-way between wanting the Leafs to be really good and wondering if they can be bad enough so Randy is history. I have nothing against him but few players could succeed with his systems and many had an unfortunate season.

      It looked like Randy and his staff weren't very happy with each other--maybe Spott and Horachek will have more success. I kind of expected one more assistant coach to be added but maybe they felt there were too many voices last season. There sure was confusion. Colleen

    6. Hi Colleen!

      Lucky I saw this accidently! But it is a good idea and I had the 7th sense to look here.

      We talked about defense last week. On MLHS there was an article last week about the Leafs PK and there is a Video with a Goal against them. It is not 5 on 5 but it tells a lot about their defensive play. Tell me what you see and I tell you what I see.

      Hockey is a hard game to watch because it is very important to know a lot. You can not see what you do not know. Soccer for example is easy to watch without knowing a lot. And you will recognize a very good player only by seeing him play without knowing much about soccer. In hockey it does not work that way so easily.

      I watched a few games from our last playoff series and I did it because of Gardiner.

      You said he turns the puck over a lot in the neutral zone and I tell you why.
      Gardiner has the puck deep in our zone he is looking for the first pass. He has two options a) passing to a forward on the left ( but a Bruin is on his way to take the lane away) b) make a save pass to the RW.
      Gardiner takes the difficult and dangerous option instead of the safe one and he does it frequently. This always ends in the turnovers in neutral zone.
      Hockey is about making good decissions and his are often bad.
      He is in his own zone again having the puck coming from behind the net skating by the nets right side. First of all he is hanging on to the puck to long before he makes the pass in this case he could have passed the puck to Kadri who was waiting for it on the right side but he did not. He skates to the left side of the ice he is around the blue line now the Bruins LW applies pressure from the right but is not attacking him. Gardiner is quick the LW is slightly behind him now and the Bruins C is taking over pressuring him from the right but not attacking him the Bruins RD is awaiting him around the blue line taking over from the C pressuring on the defensive side while the C now tries to attack Gardiner from behind. We stop here.
      Imagine: Gardiner skating on the left side while 3 Bruins all in their zones pressured him from the right to keep him on the left side. Let's look at his options: the RW was awaiting a pass between the red and the blue ( Bruins LD deep in his own zone Bruins LW in the middle around the defensive blue line ) the passing lane was free, he did not do that, Kadri skated through the middle same hight as Gardiner but no pass. Remember 3 guys concentrated on Gardiner, if he made a play to Kadri or better to the RW the Leafs had a lot of free space and a clear advantage over the bruins entering the offensive zone with the puck and 3 Bruins out of the play. The other option would be hanging on to the puck and moving to the free space on the right side to open other passing options and making it difficult for the three guys watching him. The third option is dumping it in while at the red line to use the speed of his 3 forwards to regain the puck. He did not.
      Now he is crossing the Bruins blue line with the Bruins RD fully controling the defensive side and the C pressuring from behind, now he can try to hold on and get deeper into the zone (if not loosing the puck first), he can shoot the puck if he finds a lane but he will not score from the blue line because there is a free view for Rask and there will be no chance for a rebound because our 3 forwards all need to stop or reduce their speed significantly at the blue line. Because of the same reason dumping it in now is equally useless.
      Gardiner killed all advantages because of bad decission making. He was flashy skating and it looks fantastic and this is what people then mistake as being a good hockey player.
      But they do not see that the Bruins (in this case) controled him completely and he was not dangerous at all.

    7. If they fire Randy there has to be a coach that really fits the mold. Now they have a solution that two guys can step without hirering somebody in haste.

      There are a few things, despite of the system todays hockey players learn how to behave in defensive situations. There is no chance that NHL players behave so badly playing defense as the Leafs did and I talk about basic mistakes from individuals. They had problems with the system but it seemed they had forgotten everything they knew about playing defense. (watch the link from the comment before).
      But the same goes for playing offense as I mentioned before.

      It was unbelievable that so many Leafs had a bad or unfortunat season.

      To be fair the Leafs lacked depth and Randy had very few options.
      What concerns me a bit, even in the good shortened season his old school style of hockey has ist limits. And the things about Gardiner (and he is only an example) I wrote, are coachable errors. And I do not know why the were not able to get the message through. Are they players not listening or able to grow. Or do they not explain propperly or whatever.

      The Leafs will be better because of their depth. I am curious about the line combinations and pairs and if somebody else than Holland can make the team.

      What concearns me really is the state of our D right now.

    8. Sorry I made you have to search, Marcus. After I posted I realized I could have just added to the bottom of this page!

      My biggest concern is defense too. There were times I wondered if the coaches were telling them two different things. Hopefully they'll be all on the same page this season.

      Another concern: Will Peter Holland have a spot on the Leafs? If he was a left winger, I would have liked to see what he could do on the 2nd line. He was fairly dominant when on the ice for the Marlies. I don't know what we have in Holland but I'd like to find out. At least he has a better chance this year, even if he's stuck on the fourth line again.

      My other concern: Who do you think takes the winger's spot with Kadri and Lupul? I really don't want to see Clarkson there again and Lupul is so much better on his off wing. I was hoping for someone special and I suppose a trade during the season is possible. For now they need someone who is a good play-maker but is sound defensively. Who do you think has the best chance to complete the 2nd line? Colleen

    9. No problem. I saw that there was one more comment on this article that made me curious to look if it was you.

      Have you watched the video?

      I am concerned with our D because of the personnel. Franson makes no sense. He has to go. We still have no partner for Dion.

      As you said correctly Lupul is much better on his off wing, that means he has to play the left wing again. That Carlyle was forced to move him to the right really hurt him.
      You are right with your assessment about Clarkson, he does not fit there.
      I know we have a lot of wild cards but I really, really like Kontiola. I would put him on the right wing with Kadri and Lupul. But it is about chemistry.

      Holland will stay with the Leafs. He has to clear waivers so they can not send him back (he will be claimed by another team).
      I like him very much, he is dangerous offensively, responsible defensively , he makes good decisions with the puck even under pressure in the defensive zone. He should have played more last year but Carlyle had not enough good wingers to play with him.

      Kadri has to be carefull. If he does not change his attitude and plays a good season, he could loose his spot. There is plenty of competition.

      Ah one other thing. I think it is to early. I would prefer to give him at least another year.
      But if he has a great camp and they think he deserves a chance, Nylander will play on the second line on the right wing.

    10. I always get mixed up with what wing Lupul likes to play!
      Defense worries me but I'm anxious to see what they can do with Horachek and a better system. They will likely need some time to adjust. (will watch video tomorrow)
      Nice to talk to you, Marcus. No one I know is interested in the type of discussion I want to have. I've gone past the point where watching the game is enough.
      Thank Goodness for Michael and this great site.

    11. Nice to talk to you too! I agree, watching the games is not enough.

      Horachek will implement a better system. But the players have to execute. There are often diffrent layers to such a problem and it is sometimes pretty difficult for us who only watch to recognize what the problem really is. The system was terrible and it often seemd
      the players did not know what to do. And they did not execute. Why? Are the coaches not able to get the message through? Some problems (what I wrote to you about Gardiner for example) are coaching problems. Why are they still there? Are the players not listening?
      Are they listening and simply don't want to do it?
      The system has to be adjusted, but if your players do not battle for every inch of ice it does not matter what system is played. As I mentioned before that it seems like they forgot all basic knowledge. Perhaps the assistant coaches were really an issue.

      One ather thing we have to think about is that this a level where all 30 Teams are pretty equally strong. The diffrences are not that big. And if you play in such a league with three lines while everybody else plays with four, players will be out of gas sometimes later in the season and first area to notice that is the defense.

    12. we can continue or conversation here Colleen. If you like to.

  5. I am rather positive about the upcoming season for the Leafs...but when am I not optimistic?

    Ever since Shanahan got here, the moves seem to make more sense. We didn’t overpay for an injured/banged up Bolland. We have signed some cheap journeymen on short contracts for the bottom six, which means we don’t have to play ineffective goons against soft teams and we don’t have to rush any of our kids on the Marlies.

    With Orr and perhaps Bodie sent to the minors to start the season (Bodie has cleared waiver before, Frattin and Ashton won’t) we will have some cap space and flexibility. If another Marlie merits a promotion during the season, we can waive or trade one of these veterans with half a season left on a million dollar contract. If by some odd miracle the trend reverses and fighting and intimidation becomes important we could call up Orr, McLaren, Bodie, Broll, Devane and fight any team in the league.

    I think the bottom six of real hockey players will be fun to watch.

    I think the Leafs won’t let another season go the waste. If they start poorly, Carlyle is gone and the heir apparent, Steve Spott will be promoted. I am quite confident Spott will do well.

    I am thinking the Leafs could make the playoffs...and maybe scare somebody or win a round.

    1. We need fans who remain optimistic, DP- thanks. But I think you're being realistic, too. The bottom-six forwards should be improved; we have goaltending; teams can make up ground quickly in the Eastern Conference.

      Shanahan is looking ahead- always a good way to manage.

  6. I am usually optimistic during the summer months but my outlook for this coming season is anything but that. This past season has soured my outlook and I am in the "show me camp. Part of me is pulled toward the optimistic side (and I really want to be optimistic) but until Carlyle proves that he can embrace the realities of the present day NHL I cannot.

    The key to this season will be ice time management. Carlyle has been provided with a plethora of very good bottom six players. If he utilizes them wisely we could be in for an interesting season. If he reverts to dressing seven defensemen or playing 4th liners for four or five minutes a night then we are in trouble.

    I feel that this Leaf team could easily be a contender in the East. They certainly have the scoring talent and if Peter Horachek can fix the defense and penalty kill at least to the point of being league average they have a chance to be very good,

    My biggest problem is a lack of confidence in Carlyle. I hope I'm wrong but until he proves me so I cannot embrace a rosy outlook.

    1. I sense a lot of Leaf supporters, Pete Cam, are concerned about whether Carlyle will make the adjustments he seemed unwilling to consider a year ago. He has even more personnel to choose from now, guys who can play more significant minutes. We'll see.

  7. Hi Michael,

    the Leafs will be better next season and that means they will make the playoffs.
    And if you make the playoffs in the east there is a good chance to be a contender.

    For that to happen Kessel has to stay healthy. If he gets injured it would be a disaster.

    The Leafs have a lot more depth and a lot more scoring punch in their bottom six.
    The defense is more balanced but one piece is missing here and we still carry one player who has to go. I don't think moving Dion to the left is a good idea. We will see how this plays out .

    It will be intriguing how the lines will look.

    Then there will be the guys that have to be clearly better than they were last season.
    Lupul had 22 goals but he lacked chemestry with Kadri and he could be better than 44 points.
    Kadri looked only good on paper with his 50 points so he has a lot of room to improve.
    I don't need to say anything about Clarkson.
    I simply think you can not have two years in a row where evrything goes so bad against you.

    1. Hi Marcus- it's funny, Lupul is a player I have not thought a lot about, but there's no doubt he should be stronger and more productive than he was a season ago.

      Agreed on Clarkson- he surely will be better than last year and can have a positive impact this season. Last year was a write-off.

      And yes, staying healthy will be key.

    2. Because of the injuries Carlyle moved Lupul to the right wing and that really hurt him.
      And there was no chemestry with Kadri either.
      The Leafs brought in enough guys to play the right side that there will be no need to move Lupul back to the right.
      Kadri has to show up this year, he can not afford another weak season. There are plenty of options and he can find himself on the outside looking in very quickly.

      Clarkson was caught in that spiral and couldn't move out of it. He will be better. And that will add leadership too.

  8. As touched on by many posters above, there is room for optimism this offseason. The Leafs finally have taken steps towards the type of play that wins in today's NHL.

    Last year was the season of "Imaginary Awesomeness," where a loudmouthed executive declared the rebuild over and talked openly of parade routes. Humbled (and likely muzzled from above), Imaginary Awesomeness has since given way to pragmatic reality.

    Overall, I'm pleased by the moves we've made since Shanahan arrived. Not because they're quick fix answers that (emptily) promise championships, but because they are measured, logical steps in the right direction. No long-term damage was done to the salary cap chasing fool's gold. Small trades were made to address specific areas. There will be legitimate internal competition for roster spots, not a pecking order that was 95% defined before camp. Again, measured steps in the right direction.

    My expectations for this year simple. I expect system changes/adjustments defensively, smarter neutral zone play, and continued success offensively as younger talents (Kadri, JVR, Gardiner, Rielly) develop. Our possession metrics should improve. But more than anything, I want to see a commitment to the type of hockey that wins games in 2014 (not 1993) -- and to see that commitment sustained over a full season. If that happens, this next year will be a success.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Anon. Fans want less talk and more focus on building a roster and an approach to playing the game that will create success now and in the future. For now, I think Leaf fans believe Shanahan is on the right track.

  9. .Part 1: The Leafs: Last Season

    How we look at Leafs' chances in this upcoming season depends (or should depend), on the one hand, on how we see the last season - what went wrong and who is to blame and how the summer changes have addressed the issues - and, on the other hand, how we stack up against the opposition - especially Division and Conference rivals - how their offseasons have gone, whether they are now stronger or weaker, who's coming up/getting better and which teams are on their way down.

    Let's begin with the Leafs. In my opinion, the season has gone south because of two factors - first, the injuries and suspensions to key players (Bozak, Bolland, Clarkson - essentially our bottom six and down the middle) combined with the inability of the Marlies to step up and fill those holes and, second, because our defense (except for Phaneuf) simply sucked.

    Carlyle got the team that he wanted last summer and, on paper, should have been able to implement his system and run with it but this depended on those key pieces performing well - we replaced streaky, underperforming and unhappy Grabo and McArthur with a solid checking center Bolland and gritty, cycling winger Clarkson (Mimico boys). Both had horrible seasons - Bolland due to devastating injury and Clarkson due to just not fitting in well and that fateful suspension at the beginning. The replacements (super young and inexperienced Holland and T. Smith followed up the Smithson experiment) just didn't deliver and the first two lines and McClement just couldn't pick up that much slack - they ended up being overplayed while the goons (like the kids) couldn't be counted on to play minutes against the tough competition. People blame the coach for mismanaging the roster here but I really don't see what his options were - he simply didn't have the roster players to do the jobs that needed to be done.

    Defense was simply atrocious. Aside from the Captain who played really well for most of the season everyone else simply sucked - the kids (roaming Gardiner who just refused to play defense and 18-year old Rilley who did ok as a bottom pairing guy) weren't ready to step up and the other three (Ranger, Franson and Gunnarson) just didn’t play very well be it because of injuries or whatever until the very end of the season when it was too late. Again, I don’t think it was the ‘system’ that failed here – our roster was simply not quite there yet – the Marlie call-ups could have been Holtzer or Granberg or T. J. Brennan – I just don’t see how they could have walked in and made a difference. We simply didn’t have the personnel required to stack up against the NHL competition.

    Goalies were amazing – they stopped so many pucks and let in very few ‘bad goals’. In Toronto, it seems, it is expected of them to steal majority of the games and even though they did in fact do that last season it wasn’t good enough for the fans. What more could they do? As I said before, short of acquiring Quick as a starter and Lundquist as his back-up we can’t really improve in that position.

  10. Part 2: The Leafs: The Offseason

    So, the summer came and the Leafs management did exactly what needed to be done – shore up the depth of the bottom 6 (Kontinola, Komarov, Santorelli, Booth, Winnik, Frattin), shore up the depth down the middle (Winnik, Kontinola, Komarov, Santorelli can all play centre), avoid spending huge money on bottom 6 players, improve the defense by, on the one hand, signing proven, stay-at-home veterans (Robidas and Polak) and bringing in the proven defensive coach in Peter Horachek (who developed the likes of Ryan Sutter and Shae Webber in Nashville) to help our young defensive starlets improve their game. The goalie tandem remains intact and should be only getting better with another year of experience.

    The way I see it this team is a lot like the last year’s team, only much deeper – for every injury or accident there’s now a ready replacement, the young ones are a year older and the coaching has improved (Spott is supposed to be an expert on developing young players and a support for Carlyle – it appears that they are on the same page – and Spott may be able to ‘get through’ to some of the players that perhaps Carlyle wasn’t able to reach, while Horachek should be able to ‘fix’ the PK and the defense).

    All in all, I think it’d be hard to say that the Leafs are not better than last year. But they still need those two key pieces we’ve been talking about for years – a true, star center and a true stud defenseman. Perhaps Bozak, Kadri, Holland, Kontinola or Nylander will become that center and Rilley or Gardiner that defenseman. More likely, some of these guys will have to be traded for those pieces. But the gaping hole remains.

  11. Part 3: The Competition - The West, The East and the Conclusion

    So that’s the Leafs. What about the competition? Luckily we don’t play in the West. Western teams are the most improved ones and that’s on top of being much better to begin with – the two powerhouses in Chicago and LA are now being joined by the improved Ducks, Blues, Wild and Stars with San Hose and Colorado not far behind. All of these teams are, in my opinion much better than our Leafs and it would take a miracle for us to beat them in the best of 7 series if we were ever so lucky to secure the ticket to the dance.

    In the East however, not much has happened this offseason. Tampa is nothing without Bishop standing on his head as we’ve seen in their unceremonious first-round exit from their playoffs; nobody seems to want to play in Ottawa these days and, like Tampa, they don’t seem to have much without Anderson playing well; Boston and Pittsburgh are still good but not improving and not unbeatable; Washington is still all Ovechkin and that is not enough; Buffalo and Florida are coming but not yet; Islanders ‘went for it’ this offseason but I think they’re making the same mistakes we’ve been making over the last few years – paying too much for and relying too much on on underperforming veteran players like Grabo, Halak and Kulemin; Jersey is improving but remains mediocre; Carolina sucks; Columbus is a good team and may do well; Montreal doesn’t look great on paper but you never know with them – they can win the Cup any year simply by being ‘that Montreal team’; Detroit seems to be standing still and may again outperform the expectations because Datsyk and Babcock but I really don’t see them contending this year.

    All in all, the East remains weak and the Leafs could easily make the playoffs and go as deep as possible in this Conference. If they make it to the Stanley Cup Finals the rest will be up to Hockey Gods who haven’t been kind to us in the past. Realistically, however, probably not this year or next. We need Stamkos or Tavares, Webber or Doughty (or some of our prospects to turn into that) to take us to the Promised Land and that’s not yet on the table.

    It will be a fun season to watch though with so many new faces fighting for ice-time and glory and young players continuing to develop. I am really hopeful that the Captain will get to score more goals and lay more hits now that he has a bit more support from the better defensive system and improved players. I’m really looking forward to Komarov’s hits and chirping. I’m rooting for the underdog Bozak to continue to silence his doubters and continue to feed his buddy whose rushes and snipes are beautiful to watch and a true gift to the Toronto fans. I’m hoping Winnik can do what Bolland was supposed to do, I hope to see Orr and/or McLaren throw a few more punches and, above all, I hope that the 1a/1b goalie tandem works out and becomes the envy of the league.

    1. Good to hear from you, leafdreamer. As much as I find it difficult to see the tandem in goal working out, it would be a huge bonus for the Leafs if somehow Bernier and Reimer worked well together this season. If the incoming defensemen (Polak and Robidas) do take up their place and help, that will make a difference, too.

      Depth never hurts. And the Leafs seem to have that this season.

  12. I'm not sure how to feel about the 2014/15 Leafs.I find it troubling that they went out of the organization to fill the roster after Shanahan publicly stating that they were going to have spots for some of the Marlies.I was thrilled to hear him say that because it truly would have meant that their mindset had changed.We would be using our own talent and if it didn't work out then a high draft pick was coming.I was ready to accept a bad season to improve instead of hoping and being disappointed again.Then they sign these reclamation players(Booth) who don't want to play for the Leafs as much as to use them to get their career back on track.That pisses me off.Give that spot to a prospect that may be ready to make the jump and has fire in his belly.We all talk about how we should try to emulate the Hawks or the Kings but it's all talk.It's a quick fix and keep em in the seats mentality that has ruined this franchise.Never good enough and never bad enough.I see all the positives too(Reimer, Bernier, Nylander, Kessel, Komarov,Reilly) but I look at the end game and see if's.
    If Bernier is healthy and can play the bulk of a season,if Reimer can return to form, if Carlyle can adjust, if Booth can succeed,etc.My expectations are low. My anticipation is high for the season. I just wish there were more of our own drafted players that were going to be constructing the outcome.I know this reads negative but I'm tired of the cycle of signing older players(Robidas,Polack,Booth) instead of using our own prospects.I am looking forward to seeing what Reilly can do with more ice and the impact Leo Komarov will make.

    1. It's true, Anon, there are an awful lot of "ifs" this season. There should be plenty of competition for spots and we'll see if some of the kids in the system get a legitimate shot.

    2. Young players have to be developed properly. There is no point in putting some kids in to see if they are ready. You harm them more than doing them any good.
      They have to be ready to get the opportunity.
      There are still enough spots available, the mindset has changed and if someone is ready he will get a chance.
      Holland will make the team and at least the 7th D-man will come from the Marlies.
      If Booth can get his career back on track with 20 - 30 goals for the Leafs for 1.1 Million, I can see no harm. If he doesn't, there is no risk

  13. Firstly, let me just say: it has been a while! A year or two, I'm sure, since I last commented here. It's nearly AIHL finals time here in the merry old land of Oz, so I'm hoping my Adelaide Adrenaline can offer some good entertainment over the next few weeks.

    One of the reasons I've wandered back to your blog, I guess, is that I do feel ... like Pete above, perhaps not optimistic, but at least not pessimistic about the upcoming Leafs season for the first time in I don't know how long. The team hasn't made a single move I audibly groaned about since renewing Carlyle's contract, but even he seems somewhat open to the idea of evolving his ways. Besides, coaches are much more easily dismissed than $5 million wingers (*cough*) if need be. I expect a team that should compete handily for a playoff spot and have some kind of chance in the first round.

    1. I knew I had not heard from you here in a while, Peregrine, so it's good to connect again.

      Based on the discussion here in recent weeks, it does seem as though most Leaf supporters feel most of what Shanahan/Nonis have done this summer should help. As importantly, there is a belief that Shanahan's long term vision is on the right track.

      Good to hear from your Peregrine- good luck to the Adrenaline in the games ahead!

  14. Hi Michael,

    can you belive it? Last year the Leiweke guy wanted to remove all Leafs pictures from the past from the ACC!!! And now he is the "driving force" behind the Leafs Monument!!! This guy is an absolute joke!
    It is unbelievable! I am not a leafs fan to be lampooned by this guy!

    1. Hi Marcus- I just saw that. I'll try to read more about it.

    2. I think Leaf fans, with the help of some older Leaf alumni like Bower, set him straight on a few things. Leiweke back-tracked pretty quick. Bringing in a "new culture" has nothing to do with erasing the past. It has to do with a brain trust in place that knows how to build a winner consistently.

      Shanahan seems to understand the Maple Leafs fan base a lot better than Leiweke, and is embracing the history of the organization and honouring our past heroes. I think we, the long suffering but loyal fans, really needed this. I hope honouring former Leafs includes Dave Keon's #14 finally being retired and raised to the rafters where it should have been all these years.

      I don't like Shanahan's choice to keep Carlyle in place, but in all fairness, a decision needed to be made and Shanahan had only just arrived. I also don't expect to like every single move--that wouldn't be reasonable. Otherwise, I have never had such a feeling of confidence that the Leafs have the right guy finally making the decisions. I don't expect miracles over-night, he's new to the job and may make mistakes, but he's so methodical. The Leafs aren't contenders yet but I just feel much more optimistic for the future.

      With a new front office hire to be announced , next week should be interesting. There is speculation about Quintal, Blake etc.

      Michael, you'll soon have a another new post and topic for discussion, though you never seem to lack them. Thanks ahead for whatever you come up with next. Colleen

    3. Hey Colleen,

      I trust Shanahan completely. He will contiue to do good things in the coming years.

    4. Shanahan played it smart. There is no point in tearing evrything down. He really has to see the machine running to be able to make big decissions. And he sems convinced that Carlyle will buy in. We will see. But the other thing is if he fires Carlyle what is the plan?
      Makes no sense to only plug wholes there.